For just a few weeks every spring, fiddleheads — bright green coils of ostrich fern that have been harvested before they unfurl — show up in markets across the country.
There are many who take their arrival as one of the first signs of spring, along with asparagus and fava beans, and ramps (wild leeks), which are easier to find (and even forage) if you’re out east.
Fiddleheads taste fresh and green, with a flavour similar to asparagus, green peas or green beans. There is one difference — they need to be cooked before you eat them.
There have been cases of gastrointestinal distress associated with raw and lightly cooked fiddleheads, so Health Canada suggests that after cleaning them (and pulling off any brown papery bits), you boil or steam them for 12-15 minutes, even before sautéing, roasting or pickling them. (However, there are many skilled fiddlehead foragers who argue that the suggested cooking time is far too long if you want a tender-crisp fiddlehead.)
If you want to freeze fiddleheads, boil them for a few minutes, plunge into cold water to stop them from cooking, and freeze.
Fiddleheads can be a stand-in anywhere you might use asparagus — they can be sautéed, stir-fried or added to pasta or salads (after cooking and cooling).
They can be roasted and even grilled, though you may want to use a cast iron skillet if there’s a risk they’ll slip through the grill. You can pickle them or add them to risotto, frittatas or fried rice, or a quiche or veggie gratin. And in New Brunswick, where fiddleheads are abundant and commonly foraged along the banks of rivers and streams during the last weeks of May, they’re often turned into soup or chowder.
Oyster Mushroom and Fiddlehead Noodles
These noodles could be made with any kind of fresh mushrooms, ground beef, pork or tofu. I happened to have some oyster mushrooms on hand, and they’re wonderfully meaty in a bowl of noodles. Of course you could make this with asparagus, or snap peas, broccoli, rapini, or any other veg you like as well.
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp. peanut or almond butter
- 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
- 1 big pinch of chili flakes, drizzle of chili oil or squirt of sriracha
- 2-3 green onions
- 1/2 lb. fresh chow mein noodles (or any other kind of noodle)
- canola or other vegetable oil, for cooking
- 1-2 cups roughly chopped fresh mushrooms
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- ½ to 1 cup fiddleheads, steamed or boiled (or raw asparagus or rapini, roughly chopped into 1-inch lengths)
In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, peanut butter, rice vinegar, sesame oil and chili flakes or oil. Chop the white part of the green onions and if you like, cut the green ends into thin strips 1-2 inches long, and put them in a bowl of cold water to curl.
Put a pot of water on to boil and cook the noodles according to the package directions.
Set a large skillet over medium-high heat, add a generous drizzle of oil and cook the white part of the onions and the mushrooms for a few minutes, until the onions are soft and the mushrooms are starting to turn golden on the edges. Add the garlic and fiddleheads (or other veg) and cook for another minute or two.
Add the soy sauce mixture to the pan and cook, stirring, until it reduces slightly and thickens. Reserve a bit of the starchy cooking water from the noodles before you drain and add them to the skillet. Toss to coat the noodles, adding a bit of the cooking water (or some of the oniony water from the onion tops) to loosen it up if it seems too dry. Serve the noodles topped with the onion curls.
Roasted Salmon and Fiddleheads
This is more method than recipe — you can cook as much salmon and as many fiddleheads as you need to feed the number of people you’re cooking for.
- salmon filets
- olive, canola or other vegetable oil
- salt, to taste
- fresh herbs, sliced lemon or other seasonings
Preheat the oven to 425˚F and put your salmon filet skin side down on a parchment or foil-lined sheet. Boil or steam your fiddleheads for about 10 minutes, drain and pat them dry.
Arrange around the salmon, drizzle everything with oil, sprinkle with salt, add fresh or dry herbs to your taste (or a smear of pesto on the salmon is delicious), lay some lemon slices or wedges on or around the fish, and bake for about 10 minutes per inch of thickness, until the salmon flakes easily on a thin edge, but is still moist in the middle.
Serves: As many as you like.
Spring Veg Risotto
Risotto is a wonderfully simple, versatile and comforting spring/summer dish, and easier to make than you might think! It’s a great way to use spring veggies.
Use this recipe as a blank canvas; sauté some chopped mushrooms in the oil and butter (delicious with rosemary!) before adding the rice to the pot, or grate in a raw beet or some tomatoes, add asparagus or fiddleheads for the last few minutes of cooking time, or stir in handfuls of torn spinach, fresh basil or other greens at the end.
Though there are measurements here, you can make any quantity of risotto as long as you stick to a ratio of about one to four, rice to stock (or salted water)—if you’re cooking for one, about 1/4 cup uncooked rice will do as a starting point.
- 2 Tbsp. canola or olive oil (approx)
- 2 Tbsp. butter (approx)
- 1/2 small onion or 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 3/4 cup short-grain rice (such as Arborio)
- a splash of wine (optional)
- 3-4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock (or salted water)
- a handful of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved (optional)
- a few stalks of asparagus, chopped into 1-inch lengths, or cooked fiddleheads
- fresh greens (spinach, arugula, baby kale or basil), if you like
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
In a large saucepan or Dutch oven heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat. When the butter gets foamy, add the onion and cook for a few minutes, sprinkling with salt, until soft but not browned. Add the rice and stir it around for a minute or two, until coated with oil and butter. If you like, add a splash of wine and cook for a minute, until it evaporates.
Add about a half cup of the stock and cook, stirring often, until your spoon starts leaving a trail through the bottom of the pan. Continue adding the stock about half a cup at a time, stirring frequently, until the rice is just tender, which should take about 20 minutes. Some time along the way, add the tomatoes — the earlier you add them, the more they’ll break down into the risotto. Stir in your asparagus and/or fiddleheads for the last few minutes of cooking time.
When the rice is just tender, stir in any fresh greens you’d like to add (they should wilt right away), and stir in the Parmesan cheese and another chunk of butter, if you like—it should have a slightly saucy consistency that flows into your shallow serving dish.
Calgary Eyeopener6:26Julie Van Rosendaal on spring veggies